Everyone knows that stretching is important, but often the things that we know are important are the things that we push to the side when we're busy, like sleeping and drinking enough water. I'm just as guilty of this. I used to spend around half an hour stretching after my workout. These days, I exercise in the morning and am often rushing at the end so I swap stretching for a shower. I have felt the difference in my flexibility because of this and I'm making an effort to prioritise stretching more. Here's some reasons as to why you should make the effort to put it into your workout.
Stretching is Important for Every Day Life
Tight muscles affect our posture by pulling parts of our body away from the intended position. When we use our muscles, they become tight. This can be from things such as sitting at a desk all day, not just exercising. The position we sit in at a computer can cause our chest muscles to become tight, resulting in our shoulders being pulled forwards and our head tipped down. Because of this we then hunch and strain our backs. Simple things like picking something off the floor are much easier when our hamstrings and lower back are flexible. Even walking is better when we have full range of motion in our hips.
When our muscles tighten up like this, shifting our posture, it can cause in pain in the areas that have been moved. Back pain is probably the most common result. Stretching is important for easing this pain and things like yoga or pilates are good ways of giving the full body a really good stretch. It also increases blood flow and nutrient supplies to the muscles, reducing the ache.
Stretching is Important for Working Out
Stretching releases tension in the muscles that's built up during exercise. When we work a muscle, micro-tears form in it. These heal with the muscle tissue being slightly further apart and this is how muscles grow. Stretching stops these tears from healing close together and restricting the muscle's range of movement. By allowing the muscle more movement, we have reduced the change of it tearing badly during an exercise. Statistically, stretching could have prevented 50% of sports related injuries for this reason.
Improves Muscle Development
Muscles that are flexible and have full range of movement are able to perform an exercise fully. This means that a stretch muscle will get more benefit from an exercise. This is true in weight training as sports alike. Think of performing a lift or a move in your sport, but only doing half of it. You're not getting the full benefit or effect from that move or lift if you don't complete it. This is also true of your physical ability. If you're only physically able to reach half way, your performance is compromised and your effort is not being fully used. Make sure your muscles are flexible and ready to do what you need them to.
Stretching is Important for Our Mental Health
When we stretch, we have some quiet time with our bodies. Usually, it's not a high intensity activity and it gives us time to sort through our thoughts for the day. I find this to be especially true with Yin Yoga. At the end of the class, I came out with a more relaxed body and a quieter mind as I had sorted through everything in my head that had been missed that day while I was busy doing. You could liken this to a physical meditation.
We've long since associated yoga with stress relief. Sometimes when our minds are too active to sit quietly and mediate, stretching can be a great alternative. We can focus on our bodies, increase the blood flow to our muscles and calm our thoughts all at the same time.
How and When to Stretch
Although it's commonly said that we should stretch before performingany exercise, there is now evidence to suggest that stretching before working out can actually increase the chance of injury. The reason is that if you stretch before exercising, your muscles are still cold and stiff and stretching them can actually cause tears or pulls and reduces strength. Do a light, dynamic stretch to warm up your muscles, especially tight ones, then give them a good stretch as a reward at the end of your workout.
When holding static stretches, the optimum time is 20-30 seconds. Anything less doesn't get the full effect. If you want to stretch the deep muscle and tendons, then you can hold a stretch for 2-4 minutes. This is not the same as a post workout stretch as you're working different parts of your muscle, but this is the premise that Yin Yoga is based on. It stretches the core of your muscles and I try to do this once a week, even if it's just on one muscle. If you're interested in this, check out Kelly Starrett on YouTube. He does a deep stretch of the day video every day.
You don't have to stretch your entire body every time you exercise. Work on the are that you just stressed, whether that's lower body, legs, shoulders, etc. If you do this each time, you will eventually get around your full body as you work it out. You should also take one day a week to do a full stretch, such as a yoga class. If you work out every day, one day a week should be a low intensity workout, like a casual swim or bike ride. Yoga is perfect for doing on this day. My workout programme includes one yoga practice a week.
Stretching is important! It's a simple conclusion, but one that we need to reminded ourselves of from time to time. Arrange your workout so have a 10 minute stretch at the end to ease out the muscles you just worked. Hold it as far as you can for at least 20 seconds, but remember, stretching should never be painful. Over-stretching can cause damage just as well as not stretching. Always stretch with proper form and if you're not sure, check with a personal trainer or sports physiotherapist about the best way to do it.
What are our favourite stretches and what ones do you avoid when you can? Let us know in the comments!
Subscribe for Updates!